San Gabriel Valley, California on Route 66

On the post 1933 alignment of Route 66 , at Huntington and Drive and Mayflower Avenue, sits the Pottery Ranch, which has been doing business for decades providing everything from replacement plates to outdoor water fountains.

If you’re looking for a bit of shopping, Old Town Monrovia provides ten square blocks of quaint main street America providing shops, clubs, cafes, boutiques, and more. Between March and December, the streets shut down for the weekly farmer’s market on Friday nights, where you will also find California grown produce, crafts, and a variety of other items.

As you near Arcadia, look for the life-size cow marking Mike’s Diary Drive-thru on the southeast corner of Mayflower.

Arcadia – Racing Into the Future

Once a 13,000 acre land grant established in 1845, the area was called the Rancho Santa Anita. Over the next three decades, Rancho Santa Anita changed ownership five times until in 1875, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin purchased approximately 8,000 acres of the original ranch.

Having grown rich from investments in gold and silver mines, Baldwin’s initial purchase price of $200,000 would pay him vast returns when he later split up the acreage into the Santa Anita tract that would become Arcadia.

Baldwin began to develop the enormous estate, which at its height encompassed what are now the cities of Sierra Madre, Arcadia, Monrovia, El Monte, and Baldwin Park. The rancho grew oranges, lemons, grapes, and walnuts; supported large herds of cattle, sheep and horses; and produced wine and brandy. Among the horses that roamed the large ranch, some were bred as fine race horses and Baldwin began to run his thoroughbreds all across the nation during the last two decades of the 19th century.

When the town was officially incorporated in 1903, Baldwin became its first mayor. But the next year would be see the fulfillment of Baldwin’s dream – the building of the Santa Anita Race Track.

Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia, California, 1908

Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia, California, 1908

Located at the present site of the Arcadia County Park, the grandstand presented a beautiful view of the San Gabriel Mountains behind the running thoroughbreds. But for Baldwin, his dream was not to last. In 1909, California banned horse racing and the race track was forced to close. Baldwin died the same year.

In 1912, the grandstand burned and the property went unused until 1917 when Anita Baldwin sold the land to Los Angeles County, who in turn deeded it to the War Department, which utilized it as an Army balloon school during World War I.

As Los Angeles began to grow in the post-war period, Arcadia grew right along with it as more and more homes and businesses were built. When Route 66 was completed through the area in 1931, it barreled right through Baldwin’s old rancho.

In 1933, the Army transferred the land upon which the original racetrack stood, back to Los Angeles County and it was developed into Arcadia County Park.

After horse-racing bans had been lifted in California, the present Santa Anita Race Track was opened to the public on Christmas Day, 1934. As prosperity returned after the depression and travelers began to travel the “new” Route 66 , Arcadia responded by building numerous motels and restaurants.

During World War II the racetrack closed and was utilized as one of the largest Japanese American concentration camps. Over 100,000 American citizens were forced by the government to abandon their homes and businesses, which were often never recovered. Originally planned for 15,000 people, the camp actually housed over 20,000 Japanese Americans, living in crowded conditions in barracks and sometimes in horse-stables.

When the war was over, the racetrack opened up once again in May, 1945 and within the next two decades, several of the horses from Santa Anita went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Today, though just some twenty miles from downtown Los Angeles, Arcadia’s approximately 55,000 residents enjoy quiet neighborhoods, numerous parks, and tree-lined streets.

In addition to the race track, visitors can also enjoy the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum, established in 1947, located at 301 North Baldwin Avenue. Situated on the original Rancho Santa Anita, the Arboretum not only includes 127 acres of gardens, waterfalls, and wildlife, but also an 1840 adobe house, the original Santa Anita Railroad Depot, and original buildings from the Baldwin family.

For a vintage view of Arcadia’s past, check out the Denny’s restaurant at the corner of Santa Anita and Huntington streets. Originally the site of a Van de Kamp’s

Denny's Windmill in Arcadia, California

Denny’s Windmill in Arcadia, California

coffee shop, sitting upon its roof is large dutch style windmill. More history can also be found at The Derby, a restaurant dating back to 1938. Opened by George Woolf, the jockey who road Seabiscuit to victory, the restaurant soon became a gathering place for jockeys and race fans alike. Here you will not only find a wide variety menu including steaks and seafood, but also race track memoriabilia dating back to 1875. The Derby is located at 233 East Huntington Drive.

For the more adventurous traveler, Angeles National Forest, just north of Arcadia, provides camping, picnicking, recreation trails, and more.

In Irwindale, Foothill Boulevard (and Route 66) turns into Huntington Drive, continuing through Duarte and Arcadia, where it connects with Colorado Place at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Follow Colorado Place northeast to Colorado Boulevard and continue your Route 66 journey westward to Pasadena.


© Kathy Weiser, Legends of America, updated June, 2017.


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